Thursday, January 7, 2010

Whatever It Takes

Whatever It Takes

A couple of hours before all of this some Arab kid had called Jeff a “motherfucker.” Jeff had thrown the kid out of the library because the kid had been asking for it all day. He’d been pounding on the keyboard of his computers, and playing these obnoxious video games with the sound on. Patrons had complained. When Jeff walked up the stairs into the children’s room to warn the kids they basically brushed him off. He could hear the Arab boy’s laughter as he walked down the steps back to his desk in the adult room. Then came the kid’s voice again. The shouting. The noise from the video game. Jeff let it go for a little bit longer. It was Saturday and he just wanted to get through the workday, come home to Ariel, and have some wine on the couch. It wasn’t so hard to get through a day, was it.

Jeff watched the snow as it fell outside of the library in between helping patrons find books by the latest best-selling authors. They were calling for nearly a foot by the evening. Kids were already out playing in it, laughing and hitting each other with wet snowballs. Jeff smiled to himself and then checked the weather on his computer. Yep. A foot was coming. He looked up, thinking about old snowfalls from his youth. That’s when a couple of girls came running down from the kids room. One of them was crying. They both looked wet.

“They hit us,” the one girl said. “They went outside and got snowballs and hit us.”

“Who?” Jeff asked.

“They did,” the crying girl said. She pointed up to the children’s room, and the loud noise of boys playing video games.

“God damn, “ Jeff said, getting up.

The two girls took off back up the steps as Jeff followed them. He didn’t need this, he thought. The snow was coming. It would be one-foot by nightfall. He just wanted to be home in the warm apartment with Ariel having some of that wine and talking about her day. Not this. Not kids. He didn’t want to deal with kids on a Saturday like this.

“What happened?” Jeff asked.

“They did it!” the girls both shouted. They pointed to a group of boys who had their heads slumped at the computers. In the middle of them was the Arab boy.

“Okay I warned you,” Jeff started. He looked at the floor in the children’s room. It was wet in various spots. “Who threw a snowball?”

“If you were really serious about kicking us out you would’ve done it already,” the Arab boy said. He kept his eyes focused on the video game in front of him. “You would’ve done it.”

“You can go,” Jeff said.

“But I didn’t throw a snowball.”

“I don’t care. You want to be smart. You want to leave the library you can go.”

“I was just saying,” the Arab boy started, whining a little bit.

“Well, you can say it outside,” Jeff said. He glared at the boy. Everyone always told Jeff that he was intimidating, especially when he had his goatee and shaved his head. Jeff’s superintendent at the apartment called him big man. “Get out.”

The Arab kid looked up at Jeff and smirked. “I’m playing a game.”

“Yeah, well learn how to play outside.” Jeff walked over the kid’s computer and shut it off. “There’s nearly a foot of snow out there.”

“This is bullshit,” the Arab boy said, getting up. “I didn’t throw anything.”

“You don’t need to talk like that,” Jeff said. He waited for the Arab boy to get up. The rest of the boys sitting at the computers were stone silent. He followed him down the stairs, and then held the door open for him.

“I can come back next week, right?” the Arab boy asked.

“We’ll see,” Jeff said.

The kid put on his hat and walked out into the snow. He stood defiantly in front of the library. Jeff watched him for a second and then figured the hell with it. Let him stand there all goddamned day in the snow. Jeff went and sat back down at his desk, and checked the weather again. It still said one-foot of snow. He looked up at the children’s room. It was quiet up there. The boys were quiet and the girls who were crying and wet were quiet. The Arab boy was outside. Jeff just had to glide through the last few hours and then he would be home free. He could taste the wine already. He smiled and thought maybe he’d taste Ariel as well. That’s when the Arab boy came back into the library and called Jeff a “motherfucker,” before running back out into the snow.

There might’ve been six inches on the ground already by the time the library closed for the day. Jeff let all of the clerical people go, and then he shut off the lights, set the alarm and locked the building up. No one was on the street and it was only five in the afternoon. Cars crawled. The streetlights and storefront lights illuminated the swirling and falling snow. Everything had an ugly yellow look to it.

Jeff began walking down 14th Avenue, and then he made a right onto 6th. He walked past the coffee shop and it was still filled with most of the old guys from the morning. They’d been talking about football when he was in there, about the old Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Jeff was more of a baseball fan anyway. Bu he listened to these two guys go back and forth about Namath and O.J. Simpson, as he had his morning cup of coffee and moaned over the coming work day. A Saturday. One foot of snow expected. It was really coming down now, he thought. All he had to do was take that long B4 bus ride and he’d be home and warm with Ariel and wine, the snow safely left outside. It made him smile to think it.

There was hardly any room to stand at the bus stop. People were crowded in tightly between the two partitions of glass. Jeff usually stood outside of this barrier because he didn’t want to deal with people after a day spent talking to them, catering to their questions and needs, but with the snow and wind howling the way they were he had no choice. Jeff squeezed in between an old man and good-looking brunette waiting for her bus. Next to her was a woman speaking in a thick Russian accent. She had packages at her feet that were taking up a lot of the room. She had a child with her, a boy who was bundled up with a maroon jacket and a forest green snowcap. He was moving around the small space, singing, and bouncing up and down. Jeff thought that if the woman could hold one of her packages and get the boy to stop moving around so much, they wouldn’t be so damned cramped at the bus stop. There’d be room for all of them. He was going to say something to the woman, but then a bus came around the corner.

It wasn’t Jeff’s B4. It was a B49. The old man and the good-looking brunette got on the bus, and suddenly there was room. Jeff spread out a little. He felt less and less claustrophobic between the glass partitions. He didn’t even mind that the Russian woman still had her packages on the ground. Jeff didn’t mind the snow either, or the ugly yellow tint of the late afternoon. He didn’t mind anything in that moment because it had been a long day and he was going home.

The boy moved outside of the partition and began walking around in the wind and heavily falling snow. He stomped on the pavement and snow kicked up. It blew around. A little of it got on Jeff’s jacket, splattered on his goatee. Okay, he thought. Just a few more moments of this before I say something. The boy kept it up. He began stomping and stomping, moving around in circles and kicking up snow. It blew between the glass partitions. It went all over Jeff. It went all over his green Army coat and all over his Steelers snowcap. It hit the Russian woman as well. Snow was on her packages.

“Lady,” Jeff said.

The Russian woman stared straight ahead for a moment. “Yuri,” she finally said to the boy. Her accent was very thick. It bothered Jeff because he spent all day dealing with Arab and Russian people, dealing with people like this lady, her son, and that little bastard who called him a name.

Yuri looked up at his mother. He smiled in the ugly yellow tint of the late afternoon and then stomped some more. “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

“I know a boy who vill not get his presents,” the lady said.

“No you don’t, no you don’t,” Yuri said. He spoke perfect English. He stomped up and down in the snow. It kicked up in the wind and a cold rush of it came back and hit Jeff in the face.

“Lady, goddamn it,” Jeff said. “God damn!”

“Vat would you like I should do?” the lady asked him.

“Control your kid. Whatever it takes!”

“But he’s excited. They call for a foot of snow.” The lady and Jeff watched Yuri run around in circles outside the bus stop. “A whole foot.”

“That’s fine,” Jeff said. “I understand. But he’s kicking it up all over the place.”
“Yuri,” the woman called to the boy. Yuri stopped running in circles for a second. “You vill not get.”

“But I want it!” Yuri said. He stomped up and down, and snow went everywhere. “I’m not doing anything!”

“Christ,” Jeff said to himself. He wiped the snow off of his jacket. He tried to think about home and Ariel and the wine, but this kid and his mother were pissing him off. He thought about that Arab boy, and Jeff realized he’d been having one fucker of a day. Sure, others had it worse. But this was Jeff’s life. This was his fucker of a day. “Just make him stop, Lady!”

The Russian women turned to face Jeff. She smiled apologetically. He glared. He wondered if the glare was still strong enough with his shaved head covered. Jeff spread out his shoulders to seem broader. He felt bad doing this to a woman on a cold and snowy afternoon, but he really wanted to the kid to stop.

“He is boy,” she said. “It is snow and he is just excited.”

“Take him to the park,” Jeff spat. “This is a bus stop. Let him run around and stomp in the snow at the park. That’s what my old man used to do with me.”

“Yuri,” she called to the boy. Yuri bounced and stomped and got snow on everyone. Finally the woman came out of the glass partition and grabbed the boy by the arm. Yuri squealed in mock pain, as she dragged him back between the pieces of glass. “You vill stand still!”

“But I can’t, I can’t, mom,” Yuri said.

“You vill. You vill. You vill stand still. You vill do whatever it takes to stand still.”

Jeff watched them argue for a moment, the woman pathetically giving demands and Yuri bouncing in place. Fuck it, he thought. The bus would be here soon. Jeff turned away from the woman and her son to look down the street. Snow swirled in the yellow streetlights. Cars continued to crawl. In the distance he could see two, large white lights approaching. Jeff could make out the sign on the digital marquee. B4 it said. He rubbed his hands in anticipation. Jeff thought about home and Ariel and wine. Then he felt a spray of cold mist hit him on the side of his face.

“Yuri!” the Russian woman screeched. “Yuri! no!”

Jeff turned when more mist hit him. He turned and the cold mist got him square in the face. It covered his glasses with a fine spray and it got in his goatee. Through the tiny droplets of water Jeff could see Yuri. He had his back to him. Yuri had his hands in front of his pants, and a puddle of water was on the ground. It was running down and seeping into the bags holding his mother’s packages.

“Lady he’s pissing!” Jeff shouted, as more spray hit him.

“Yuri! Yuri no!” the Russian woman continued to shout.

Yuri turned to face her. He looked at his mom and then he looked at Jeff, just as the B4 got to the bus stop. “Mom our bus here,” he said.

“Yuri. Yuri no!” the woman shouted again.

“But you said to stand still. You said to do whatever it takes to stand still.” Yuri shook himself dry and zipped up. “I did it. I did whatever it takes to stand still, mom.”

“But Yuri,” the Russian woman said.

She looked at Jeff for help. She looked at Jeff for something. But Jeff just took off his glasses. He felt sick. He wiped the glasses on his jacket, and then pulled out his wallet to retrieve his bus pass. He got on the bus and found a seat toward the back. Jeff sat next to a group of Arab boys who weren’t the boys from the library. It didn’t matter. He glared at them anyway. He could smell Yuri’s piss on him, and wondered if anyone else could. Then Jeff just sat there as the bus idled at the cold and snowy stop. He didn’t want to read or think about anything. They all waited there, Jeff and the Arab boys. They waited as the Russian woman slowly picked up all of her packages. They waited as Yuri stood by her patiently waiting to get on the bus.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bobby's Notebook

Bobby’s Notebook

Bobby slammed the door to his bedroom just as Nick was coming out of the bathroom. Nick looked at the door. He waited until he heard movement. Then he heard the television come on, and soon Bobby was laughing at whatever was playing. Nick thought about opening the door and saying something about the television. He didn’t like how much television Bobby was watching. He was too old for cartoons. Nick didn’t understand Bobby’s attraction to all of the old sitcoms that played on the cable channels. Plus, wasn’t it a school night?

“He’s watching TV again,” Nick said, coming into the kitchen.

Amanda was putting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. She had the kitchen sink running in order to wash off the bigger plates. But the water was just running. Nick looked at the faucet and then he shut the water off. “Hey.”

“He’s watching TV again.”

“What would you like me to do, Nick?” Amanda asked.

“I don’t know,” Nick said. He sat down at the kitchen table as Amanda continued putting dishes and silverware into the dishwasher. He grabbed the glass of wine sitting there and had a drink. “Do you have any cigarettes?”

“You’re going to have to go out for them,” Amanda said. She opened a cabinet underneath the sink and took out the dishwashing liquid. It came in a green and gold container, the colors of the sports team at Bobby’s school.

“How much TV does he watch?” Nick asked.

“A little after school. Then he does his homework and watches the shows at night.”

“He’s a C student.”

“He has a few B’s and A’s too,” Amanda added.

“Bobby got a C in math,” Nick said.

“Well, we were both bad at math.”

Amanda poured the dishwashing liquid into the dishwasher. She closed the compartment and then slammed the door. Nick cringed. The dishwasher had cost a lot. It had cost their tax return money and then some. Nick had thought about buying a home stereo system complete with a Blu-Ray DVD player, and maybe some sports stuff for Bobby with that tax return. But then the goddamned dishwasher broke. Amanda said that he had overstuffed the machine and that’s why it happened. Nick had yet to touch the new machine.

“It’s the TV,” Nick said. He finished off the wine. “We shouldn’t have bought him that TV for Christmas.”

“It was inexpensive,” Amanda said. She took the wine bottle from the counter and refilled Nick’s glass. She didn’t get herself one. “It’s not even a flat-screen.”

“Aren’t you having any?” Nick asked, after having a bit of wine.

“I had two glasses already. I need to be sharp.”


“The book club is coming over,” Amanda said.

“Oh Christ, when?”

“I don’t have my watch on.”

There was a noise upstairs, a hard pound on the floor and then movement back and forth. The TV was turned up and then came the sound of a large weight landing. It shook the light fixture in the kitchen. “How much did he eat tonight?” Nick asked.

“You were there,” Amanda said.

“Was it two plates?”

“Leave him alone, Nick,” Amanda said. “I think he had a bad day.”

“Kids don’t have bad days,” Nick said. “Kids go to school.”

“Well, don’t you sound like your father?”

“My mother overfed me when I was a kid. I got fat,” Nick said. He stopped talking for a moment. They listened to the sound of the new dishwasher as it cleaned up their mess. “She fed me two or three portions. It took me until the age of seventeen to lose it. I didn’t even date until I was in college. I didn’t have sex until I turned almost twenty.”

“Bobby likes a girl in his science class,” Amanda said.

“What does it matter if he keeps eating this way?”

“Her name is Katherine. Katie.”

“He eats and he watches too much TV,” Nick said. “Or he plays those games.”

“You bought him that game system,” Amanda said. “Remember I said wait a year or so.”
“My father took my TV away. He took it away and told me I could have it back when my math grade improved.”

“Did it?”

“No. But I didn’t care. I decided to lose weight. I went out and jogged, and I lifted weights with my friend, Mitchell.”

“How’s Mitchell’s divorce going?” Amanda asked.

Nick waved her off and had more wine. “You really already had two glasses of this?”

“I’m going to have more when everyone arrives.”

“What are you reading?”


Nick laughed. “What kind of wine is this?”

“It’s French,” Amanda said. “It goes down smooth, doesn’t it? It never gives you a headache. You know how red wine gives me a headache.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nick said. “Sulfates.”

“Anyway,” Amanda said, sitting down across from him, “I think Bobby had a bad day.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know. I got home and he was just sitting in the living room. He was just sitting there on the couch.”

Nick nodded. “The TV wasn’t on?”

“Yeah, it was on.” Amanda took his wine glass and had a small drink. “It goes down smooth, doesn’t it?”

“See, he needs to stop watching television.” Nick had some wine then he gave the glass back to Amanda. “When I was a kid I had a paper route. He should get a paper route. That would take the weight off of him.”

“They don’t let kids deliver papers anymore,” Amanda said. She finished the wine.

“They should.”

“Did you lose weight delivering papers?”

“He’ll never meet a girl looking like that,” Nick said. He got up from the table and went over to the mantle. The mantle separated the kitchen from the dining room, and it was made of black-painted wood. “Are you sure there’s no cigarettes?”

“There might be one at the bottom of my purse,” Amanda said. Nick went over to the dining room table and opened her purse. He dug around and found a wilted smoke at the bottom of the bag. “Am I right or am I right?”

“There’s only one.”

“Let’s share it.”

Nick came back into the kitchen. He took a pack of matches off of the windowsill and lit the smoke, as Amanda watched him. The dishwasher whirled and rumbled. From upstairs there came another thump, and then something that sounded like a bowling ball smacked off of the floor. Nick turned his head up toward the ceiling and then sat back down across from Amanda. He handed her the cigarette.

“I have to get ready,” she said.

“But you don’t know when they are coming over,” Nick said. “Where’s your watch?”

“It’s upstairs,” Amanda said.

“I’ll get it.” Nick got up from his chair.

“Wait. Something happened to Bobby today.”

“What happened? What?”

“I don’t know,” Amanda said. “But he was just sitting there when I came in. I think it might be the kids at school.”

Nick shook his head. “You shouldn’t feed him so much. What does Bobby need with two plates of spaghetti? And all of that bread?”

“I thought you didn’t know what he ate.”

“I know.”

“He said he was hungry,” Amanda said. “I don’t think he eats at school because of the kids.”

Suddenly Nick got angry. He thought he didn’t know why but he did. He pictured his son starving himself at school, and then coming home to raid the refrigerator, to attack the food cabinets. All that junk: the pastries, the cheese-flavored crackers and the cheese that came in a can; all of those bags of potato chips. All those bastard kids in his class. It never changed. Once when Nick was in high school this kid named Jamie Jackson got up in front of the class and started playing Duck, Duck, Goose. When he got to Nick he put his thick, black hand on Nick’s head and shouted “cow.” The whole class laughed. Nick had never wanted to kill a man until that happened. But what could he do? Jackson played Wide Receiver on the team.

“We need to take his TV away,” Nick said. “We’ll take it away until he gets that math grade up.”

Amanda had a deep pull on the cigarette. “You do it. I’m not doing that to Bobby.”

“Fine. I’ll do it now.” Nick made for the stairs.

“Here,” Amanda said. “Bobby left his notebook downstairs.” She handed it to him.

“His notebook?”

“Yeah. He was writing in it before dinner. I don’t know.”

Nick held the notebook in his hands. He looked at it. It was red and on the cover Bobby had written “Private” in thick, black marker. “I’ll see about this notebook.”

Nick pounded up the stair. He was intent to put a stop to this. He wanted to put a stop to something. He stopped at Bobby’s door and listened. There was no sound but the TV set. Nick figured he’d just go in there and unplug the thing. He’d tell Bobby that it was for his own good. It was just until he got the math grade up to a B. Nick would keep the TV in their bedroom until then. Bobby could watch his shows downstairs in the living room, only after he finished his homework.

Nick looked at Bobby’s notebook. He looked at the word “Private” written on the cover, and then he opened it. Nick’s dad used to come in his room without even knocking. Inside the notebook were little poems and stories. Bad stuff, Nick thought. It rhymed. He wondered why in the hell Bobby was writing stories and poems in a private notebook. He wished that kids still delivered papers in the morning or after school. Delivering papers would take that weight off of Bobby. Nick knew it.

On the inside cover of the notebook Bobby had written his name and Katie’s name. He gave Katie his last name. Mrs. Katie Whitman. Mrs. Katherine Whitman. It was written over and over again. Robert and Katherine Whitman. Nick cringed. It seemed like something that a girl would do. He read more. At the bottom of the inside cover Bobby wrote something else. He wrote: Bobby loves Katie but Katie could never love Bobby because Bobby is fat. Nick read it over and over. And then he read it again. Katie could never love Bobby and he knew it.

There came a loud thump from Bobby’s bedroom again, and then the sound of footsteps. Nick stiffened in the hallway. He waited but Bobby only turned the TV up and sat back down on the bed. Nick could hear the springs tense up. There was a sitcom playing. It was a television show that Nick recognized from his youth. He had loved that show once. Nick listened. He closed Bobby’s notebook and he listened. Nick put his ear to the door, and then he held a hand up to touch the cold wood. Someone on the show spoke loudly, animated. The laugh track reverberated through the door. And then Bobby laughed.